The overwhelming majority of people I know, inside and outside the counseling room, are living on the edge of a crisis. Do you know people who struggle and worry even when things are going well? Have you known people whose lives appeared to go from great to a complete mess seemingly overnight? I can answer yes to both of these questions, and can do so while looking in the mirror. I was blessed to have a seminary education, acquiring the tools to work with to the benefit of my situation.
Having been a crisis “patient zero”, I had to filter my life through those tools before I could figure out which ones which tools to use, when to use them, and how to effectively help others in crisis. One of those powerful tools that helped me get to a place of sanity is the book Margin by Richard Swenson, MD. The thumbnail sketch of the perspective-changing concept of Margin is as follows:
Margin is the space between our load and our limits and is related to our reserves and resilience. It is a buffer, a leeway, a gap; the place we go to heal, to relate, to reflect, to recharge our batteries, to focus on the things that matter most.*
The formula goes like this: Power – Load = Margin
Power is everything you bring into the plus-column of your life. It is your physical, mental and emotional health, your time, money, beneficial relationships, etc.
Load is everything the contributes to the minus-column of your life. These are normal expendatures of health, time, money, relationships, duties, responsibilities, etc.
Crisis happens when your Load is greater than your Power, making it impossible to effectively manage your life. This Negative Margin means that something you need to apply your power to will not get dealt with. The vast majority of the American public is living between 95% and 100% of their Margin, so when something doesn’t go according to plan, they end up taxing their power beyond what they have to work with. Something has to be neglected. Often, many things have to be neglected to recover from the thing that went wrong.
You can avoid having a crisis by either A) increasing your power, or B) reducing your load. For the former, you can eat right and exercise, improve your education, trust God more, seek better paying work and similar strategies. For the latter, you can reduce extra-curricular activities, change to a less stressful job, trade down from an expensive house or car, eliminate health-taxing habits, and the like. Essentially, you avoid a crisis by setting priorities and eliminating burdens.
Ideally, we can avoid a crisis by running our lives at around 80% load against 100% of our power, leaving 20% of our power at the ready to deal with the unforseen. Once you get to that 20% of Margin consistently, it actually increases your power with less stress, less anxiety, more time and money on hand, and reserves where you’ve never before had them.
Let me close by suggesting two resources. Before reading Margin, start with reading the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 – 7, and sketch out what your proiorities really should be. Then read and apply Margin. It won’t fix your life, but it will give you a lot more power to deal with the things you have to fix.
Please leave me comments, questions, observations and feedback… I love to hear from you.
Resources Swenson, Richard - October 11, 2004 - https://www.richardswenson.com/margin - excerpt from web page.